Classic Macs in the Intel Age

Mac OS X 10.2 'Jaguar' Can Unleash the Power of G3 iBooks

- 2008.06.17 - Tip Jar

Last time, I promised you a Snow Leopard article. I'm still working on that one, but in the meantime, I just had to write about another Mac in my collection: the Dual USB iBook.

The Clamshell's successor, the Dual USB was something completely different. It lost some weight, and the multiple colors were all gone. Left was only the white polycarbonate, which is still used in the MacBook and had already been used in the iMac.

The Dual USB iBook features PowerPC G3 processors from 500 MHz all the way up to 900 MHz; mine is a 600 MHz version.

dual USB iBook

Now let's talk about how I made this Classic Mac more useful in the Intel Age!

My iBook shipped with Mac OS X 10.1 "Puma", which I still have on the restore CDs. It was quite speedy, but Puma doesn't support many of the applications we use every day, so I figured I'd go modern and install Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger".

I started by checking if the Mac was compatible. It sure was, with a 600 MHz G3, 30 GB hard drive, and 512 MB of RAM. But for some reason, it refused to install: "Please try installing again." I followed the installer's advice twice but found myself with the same error message.

So I started looking into alternatives. The recent "Linux on Macs" discussion here on Low End Mac got me thinking - maybe Linux could be a good choice for the iBook.

dual USB iBookAll the distributions ("distros") of Linux made me crazy, but I did remember using Ubuntu on my Celeron PC two years ago. So I went onto with my Hackintosh and downloaded the Ubuntu 7.04 PowerPC image. It took a good 45 minutes to download the image (slow server?), but once it was finished, I burned it to CD with Disk Utility.

When the image had been burned, I inserted the Ubuntu installer CD and booted the iBook from it. It took quite some time to boot off the CD, but eventually I was presented with a Live CD desktop containing an Install icon.

Believe it or not, Ubuntu also refused to install! I needed this machine for a trip and was running out of time.

As it turns out, the problem was a faulty RAM stick. I removed the RAM, but now the iBook had only 128 MB ! That's not enough for Ubuntu, Tiger, or Panther.

I dug out my Jaguar (Mac OS X 10.2) disks. The iBook booted very quickly from CD 1, and I chose to do a normal install on the 30 GB drive. (That drive, by the way, did not ship with the iBook. It came with a 20 GB drive, but I upgraded.) Would it work?

That question was answered, and the answer was "Yes".

After installing, the good old Jaguar intro movie popped up, and I had to fill in my personal information.

dual USB iBookImmediately after installing, I remembered I had a 512 MB stick in an old ThinkPad, so I shut down the iBook and installed the memory. Jaguar booted extremely fast and was very, very responsive.

You might think I'd have wanted to upgrade to Tiger, but no. Jaguar was so speedy on the iBook, even letting me view DivX and streaming video, that I simply decided to settle down with it.

And that very iBook still runs Jaguar. It never lets me down, and I'm always stunned at how this little G3 can be so snappy. Jaguar has since grown to be my favorite Mac OS X version for G3 computers (Leopard on newer G4s and G5s, and Tiger on very early G4s).

What do I use the iBook for? Well, since it has AirPort and the battery is in good shape, I use it on the go to surf the Web and watch movies. I also use it to edit and create movies in iMovie and for working with photos in iPhoto. Finally, it occasionally serves as a media center hooked up to my flat screen TV.

So what's my conclusion? It's that a G3 machine can be quite powerful and handle more than you think, which is the purpose of this column - making Classic Macs useful in the Intel Age.

And also that Jaguar is a great operating system for Macs with limited RAM.

Next time, we'll talk about Snow Leopard. LEM

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